August 9, 2022

UK Pledges On Deforestation May Be Threatened By Post-Brexit Trade Deals

4 min read
UK Pledges On Deforestation May Be Threatened By Post-Brexit Trade Deals

Conflicts over trade policy may be putting the UK government’s efforts to stop deforestation abroad in jeopardy, the Guardian has found.

The administration is engaged in a verbal battle over commerce and deforestation, and environmental activists have warned that a planned policy may seriously harm attempts to end illicit logging.

The international trade secretary, Anne-Marie Trevelyan, is rumoured to favour lowering tariffs on products like palm oil from Malaysia, a nation where deforestation is a major concern. The easing would be a component of a larger government initiative to pursue trade agreements with developing nations in the wake of Brexit.

By removing general trade tariffs, the UK hopes to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), which also includes Malaysia. The former trade secretary Liz Truss, who is vying for the Tory leadership, started the negotiations.

The UK’s parallel efforts to stop unlawful deforestation abroad, one of the cornerstones of the agreement that ministers negotiated at the UN Cop26 climate summit in Glasgow last year, would be undermined by the removal of tariffs without any environmental conditions.

UK Pledges On Deforestation May Be Threatened By Post-Brexit Trade Deals

“This proposal to slash tariffs on Malaysian palm oil without any conditions regarding the devastating deforestation those imports are known to cause is utter madness,” said Sam Lawson, the director of the UK advocacy group Earthsight, who has spent years researching deforestation for palm oil in Malaysia. This government is ignoring the cost-of-living issue in favour of exploiting it as a pretext to abandon its own climate targets in an uncaring attempt to seal another trade deal.

The UK’s Environment Act, which was approved last year, stipulates that businesses must use caution when importing products, like palm oil, from other nations where deforestation is rampant. The precise form that this due diligence will take in practice is currently being discussed by the Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs.

Without adequate due diligence safeguards, loosening import regulations for Malaysia might allow nations engaged in deforestation hope of evading any of the penalties outlined in the Environment Act, effectively nullifying the government’s environmental commitments. According to activists, nations like Indonesia and Brazil would probably push for comparable agreements.

The environment minister and House of Lords member Zac Goldsmith questioned Trevelyan’s views in a letter that was aggressively worded and obtained by The Guardian. He referenced studies that showed trade liberalisation in Malaysia, as the Department for International Trade (DIT) is considering, would only help the UK’s economy by around £1.38 million.

The fundamental essence of our Cop26 discourse on the value of trees would be reversed if we went for full liberalisation, he wrote. We cannot continue to lead efforts at the international level to sever the relationship between commodities and deforestation if our own trade policy promotes it.

He continued, “It is evident that this isn’t an authentic ‘cost of living’ decision; it is a values decision,” in the letter dated June 28. And I’m having trouble understanding who we’re attempting to reach with these abhorrent ideas. Or how are we going to argue for this completely untenable position, say in Lib Dem target districts?”

DIT stated that it was unable to comment on ongoing negotiations. We are steadfastly dedicated to upholding our nation’s high standards of environmental protection in trade agreements, and the CPTPP includes environmental safeguards to support these goals, a spokesperson told the Guardian.

The UK is moving forward with measures under the Environment Act to make it illegal for businesses to use key commodities if they have not been produced in accordance with local laws protecting forests and other natural ecosystems. The UK has brought together over 25 major trading nations to agree on action to protect forests through the forest, agriculture, and commodity trade dialogue.

In many countries in south-east Asia, the extraction of palm oil—which is extensively used in everything from bread to cosmetics—is a major contributor to deforestation. There hasn’t been much success with efforts to promote palm oil production that is more environmentally friendly.

According to Lawson, UK customers don’t want to be connected to the destruction of orangutan habitats or international violations of human rights. The massive grocery chains and agricultural conglomerates involved in the import of goods from Malaysia can easily cover the minimal expense of insuring this out of their own revenues.

Malaysian palm oil is currently subject to tariffs in the UK that range from 2% for crude palm oil to 12% for variants that have undergone additional processing.

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